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Winter’s Still Here

30 Jan

Maybe I’m just a wimp, since I grew up in LA and have spent my whole life in California, but this winter has been really cold for the East Bay. It seems like the coldest winter we’ve had in my eight years living here, and it’s been one of the wettest too.

Yet somehow I’ve managed to make it down to the Temescal Farmers Market at least a couple times per month to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of the winter. And I have to say that it’s been well worth it.

The winter market is enjoyable in a very different way than the summer or fall market. It’s quieter, very serene, and a bit slower. I sometimes get into a meditative mode as I walk from stand to stand, picking out onions, potatoes, greens, apples, and dried fruit. The summer market is more frenetic, and I tend to walk more briskly, sometimes having to push through crowds to grab the perfect peach.

A lot of people I know dread winter’s produce, but I feel pretty lucky to have so much fresh food during these cold days. One of my new year’s resolutions was to cook at home more, and I’ve been following through pretty well. Mostly, I’ve been making soup after soup after warm soup, all from ingredients found at the farmers market.

I’ve also started making vegetable stock, which I now can’t believe I’ve never made before. It’s really easy, and it costs nothing. I just save my vegetable scraps throughout the week and throw them in a pot of water while I’m cooking something else. An hour or two later I have vegetable broth.

I’m not much of a recipe follower (or creator), but here are some attempts to share what I’ve been cooking. Please excuse the impreciseness, but this is how I cook…

Creamy Purple Cauliflower Soup

This can be made with white cauliflower, but purple cauliflower makes this soup a beautiful lavender hue.

  • 1 head purple cauliflower, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons oil or butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups liquid (can be vegetable broth, water, milk, or any combination of these)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Spices or herbs (I prefer Indian spices, such as cumin, coriander, and garam masala)

Heat a tablespoon of oil or butter in a wok or pot. Add in the chopped cauliflower and saute for about 5 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt, cover, and cook until cauliflower softens.

While this is happening, make your roux by combining the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil or butter with the flour and cooking over low heat in a pot. Stir until combined – it should be a light brown color. Add your 4 cups of liquid to the roux and stir until combined. This can sit while the cauliflower cooks.

When the cauliflower is ready, combine with the liquid. Blend half of the mixture and then combine this back into the soup pot. Season with salt, pepper, and anything else you like. Enjoy!

Spinach Soup

(Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables) This recipe calls for a LOT of spinach, but it’s well worth it and is surprisingly satisfying and filling.

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 pounds spinach
  • Agave or honey
  • Salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot (I use the biggest one I own). Add the carrots, onion and garlic, saute for a minute, then cover and cook until onions are translucent.

Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then turn off the heat.

Add the spinach. If your pot isn’t big enough, add it in small chunks, stirring. It should shrink down pretty quickly.

Blend half of the soup and return to pot. Add a small amount of agave or honey to taste (it rounds out the flavor), as well as salt and pepper.

Move over Project Runway to make way for Hot Couture

23 Jan

Last Friday night I was lucky enough to experience Hot Couture, a fire filled fashion show and performance art spectacle at the Crucible in West Oakland. And wow – the night thoroughly surpassed my expectations.

If you’re not familiar with the Crucible, I think NovoScene described this place pretty accurately:

The Crucible is like that one little cousin you had when you were young that was always setting shit on fire. Every time you turned around-lighter in hand, I didn’t do it expression on face, flames everywhere… But it helps that the shit they set on fire is pretty damned cool and that you probably won’t get in trouble if you’re mom walks in and finds the place ablaze.

I’m not going to lie – I’m not a fashion expert, but the designers featured in this show were all incredibly talented. Check out this jacket from Antoniya Ivanova that I’m lusting after:

Anotniya Ivanova Jacket

From AreWeReally? Hot Couture Flickr set.

And take a good look at this hot collection from Eimaj Design and Escama Studio. In case you can’t tell, the handbags and metal on the dress are made from recycled aluminum pop tops.

Eimaj Design and Escama Studio at Hot Couture

From AreWeReally? Hot Couture Flickr set.

But the fire rings on the stage and outlining the catwalk were not the only flames of the night. Throughout the evening, Oakland firefighters walked across the catwalk, and at the end of the show they seemed giddy as they got the chance to play with fire instead of extinguish it:

Oakland Firefighters at Hot Couture

From AreWeReally? Hot Couture Flickr set.

And there was of course more fire throughout the night:

Fire Dancers Hot Couture

More Fire Hot Couture

From AreWeReally? Hot Couture Flickr set.

The models and fashions weren’t the only entertainment of the night though. It was really interesting to see and interact with the diverse mixture of people at the event. When Michael Sturtz, the Crucible’s director, asked how many people had been to the Crucible before, only half answered affirmatively. There was a great mix of burners, Oakland residents, and Bay Area fashionistas. At one point, I turned to my left and heard people admiring the welding involved in some of the fashion, and I turned to my right and heard two women comparing the designer clothing they were wearing. And I could tell they were more than a bit thrown off when Bad Unkl Sista’s fashion graced the stage, though I must admit even I was a bit disturbed by this performance art piece. Just try to imagine more than a dozen of these creatures slowly moving across the catwalk to the choppy beats of deconstructed techno:

Bad Unkl Sista Hot Couture

Bad Unkl Sista Hot Couture

From AreWeReally? Hot Couture Flickr set.

Unfortunately, the three night run of Hot Couture is over, but this post isn’t just here to tease you. They’ll likely have a fashion show again next year, and before that there are two events that should be just as hot:

  • The Crucible’s Benefit Fire Ballet, FIREBIRD: “L’oiseau de feu”, April 9-12 and 16-19, 2008. Last year, I missed out on the Romeo and Juliet fire ballet because I waited too long to buy tickets. So get your tickets ahead of time if you’re interested.
  • The Fire Arts Festival, July 9-12, 2008. This is the Crucible’s biggest event of the year and spans several blocks in West Oakland. Last year, the festival featured fire sculptures, fire games, and a fire opera. You can read all about last year’s event here.

Can’t wait until April for more fire? Check out AreWeReally?’s Flickr sets for hundreds of pictures from Saturday night’s fashion show gala event:

Fall’s Here

4 Nov

It could be argued that it’s been here for some time now, but as I’ve written here before, I track Bay Area seasons by produce, not by weather.

I didn’t make it to the Temescal Farmer’s Market last Sunday, but as I walked up to the market this morning, I immediately could tell that it was no longer summer. The market’s thinned out significantly. No more Kashiwase Farms, with their juicy assortment of peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots. Lucero Farms had also disappeared, and along with them, their summer squash, zucchini, and a dozen varieties of tomatoes, from Green Zebra to Brandywine. The crowds of shoppers had also thinned out, though the market was still busy.

end-of-summer.jpgAs I wandered through the market, I picked up what will likely be some of the last fruits of the summer harvest: some bright yellow tomatoes and sweetly-pungent basil from Happy Boy Farms, and a pound of strawberries grown in Watsonville. (I also froze a few pounds of strawberries in October, knowing what a treat they’ll be in a few months.)

Though I’m sad to see the summer go, I’ve come to grow fond of fall (and even winter) produce in the Bay Area. Growing up, I always thought apples were edible, but I never thought much about their taste. Now though, I think of them as such a treat. Though a few farms offer apples at the Sunday market, I’m loyal to MacDonald’s Organic Farm. I highly recommend the unknown variety (really, that’s what they’re called), Fuji, and Jonagold. All of them have a balanced mix of sweet and tart. Be careful though – you’ll need a napkin to eat one because the juices will likely drip down your chin.

Persimmons are also a fairly new favorite of mine, since I never even tasted one until I moved to the East Bay! I like to munch on them, thinly sliced, with nuts. Or I add them to salads. They’re also scrumptious with many cheeses.

I pick up persimmons and other goodies at Twin Girls Farm, which has become my favorite farm stand to visit. Maybe it’s that the family who works at the stand has always been overly friendly, and they’re never shy to explain about odd fruits (like jujubes) or offer samples. I also like to support them because while much of their produce is certified organic, some of it is “transitioning”. Lacking the official organic stamp, I know others might be skeptical and shop elsewhere, but it seems pretty clear to me that they’re moving towards 100% organic. (KQED featured a nice piece about Twin Girls, complete with a slide show of the inner working of their farm.)

After picking out three small Fuyu persimmons, including this strange looking one below, I was excited to grab some of the remains of summer and a preview of winter. Grapes will soon be gone from the market so I plucked a couple large bunches. And to my surprise, Twin Girls is already offering tangerines! I practically live on citrus fruit during the winter and am excited to taste these…

freak-persimmon.jpg twin-girls.jpg

Unfortunately, some fall produce is missing from the Temescal market. No farmers offer pears, asian pears, or figs! So I’ve only had a few pears this season that I picked up from the downtown Berkeley market, and I have splurged on some local organic figs at Whole Foods, though I try to avoid buying produce outside of farmers’ markets. So if you know farmers that offer these fruits, tell them to head over to Temescal next fall because they’ll make a lot of money and make me very happy.

Fall’s not completely about fruit though, and I did pick up some purple cauliflower, red peppers, and king oyster mushrooms. Here’s what I’ll be cooking with and devouring this week:

cauliflower-peppers.jpg

fruit.jpg

Summer’s gone, but I’m glad to know fall’s here.

What’s Happened to the Jack London Square Farmer’s Market?

7 Oct

As you might already know, I religiously wake up on Sunday mornings and walk down to the Temescal Farmer’s Market. Though some think it’s small, it’s the perfect size for me, and I can almost always find what I need (except on those days I sleep too late and arrive when the best stuff has already been snatched up).

Well, today I happened to be near Jack London Square so I thought I’d check out the market. It’s been 2 or 3 years since I’ve been there, but I remembered it as a very long market with dozens of stalls. I remembered crowds of people picking up produce, breads, prepared foods, soaps, and crafts.

Either my memory’s a bit off, or the market has significantly declined over the past years. Today it seemed to be but a shadow of my memory. It was still long, spanning several blocks, but the stands were spaced fairly far from each other, and on the last block their were only four or five stands.

As I walked into the market, I quickly spotted Happy Boy Farms and snagged some lettuce, since I know they always have the best selection. I passed up their tomatoes though, thinking there would be at least a few other farmers selling tomatoes (I like to spread my money throughout the market). As I walked through the market though, I started to realize that spending money at various stands would not be an easy task.

Besides Happy Boy, there were about three other stands selling organic vegetables. One of them had tomatoes, but they didn’t look very good. The rest of them featured squash, peppers, greens, broccoli, etc. Most of it looked pretty good, but none of those items were on my short shopping list, which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, basil and pears.

I kept my eye out for basil (an item I sometimes miss at Temescal when I sleep in). I found some conventionally grown basil and some organic basil, but the bunches were all wilted, severely sunburned and full of holes bugs had chewed in them. Now, I’m a forgiving shopper at farmers’ markets, but this was a bit much for me so I ended up skipping that purchase.

Two stands sold pears, but they were conventional and didn’t look very appealing so I skipped those too and opted instead for some plums from Kashiwase Farms (only one week before the season’s over!). For the tomatoes, I ended up backtracking to revisit Happy Boy and pick up some beautiful organic heirlooms.

The market wasn’t a total waste though. I did pick up some yummy Beckman’s bread (local, not organic) and some Jasmine incense, neither of which I ever would have found at Temescal or any of the other markets I frequent.

This experience got me thinking and brought to mind an excellent blog post on The Ethicurean by Marc R. aka Mental Masala, discussing an SF Chronicle article about how farmers’ markets can sometimes hurt farmers and discussing the exodus of many farmers from the markets. The Chronicle article centers on the experience of the San Francisco Ferry Building market, which now is full of tourists who may want to purchase a couple prepared items but aren’t interested in lettuce, tomatoes, and kale.

As I purchased my lettuce today, I overheard a woman ask if it would be ok for her to save the lettuce overnight and fly back to Washington with it. I looked around at the shoppers and noticed that unlike at the Temescal or Berkeley markets, they mostly were not weighed down by full bags of produce. One man carried a single baggett to his car. Others ate prepared food, but were carrying no groceries. Were these tourists, or just more casual shoppers than I’m used to?

Another issue brought up by Marc’s post and the Chronicle article is that the Bay Area is now flooded with farmers’ markets. This decreases the profitability of farmers at all the markets and in turn forces some farms to leave the markets altogether. I also wondered whether some of the farmers that used to sell produce at Jack London had migrated to Temescal, where it’s always crowded and it seems that nearly everyone is a serious shopper.

The only other explanation is that my memory is off. I used to be less picky about organic produce (though even the conventional produce today was not abundant), and several years ago, after moving here from LA, any farmer’s market was incredible for me. Also, I think it’s true that this market has always been less produce oriented and more focused on artisan items, such as soap, clothing, and jewelry.

If you’re a regular at the Jack London market or at least have some more experience there over the years than I do, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is the market really on a decline or am I just imagining this? And if it’s declining, why?

Fire Arts Festival

22 Jul

Every year, the Crucible’s Fire Arts Festival in West Oakland brings the Bay Area a preview of the best part of Burning Man: lots of great art, tons of fire, a mixture of people, and man-made beauty in an unexpected place.

Athena, BART, Cranes

Photo by Dave Wright, courtesy of thecrucible.org

This year was no exception. I went on Friday night and enjoyed fire arts with thousands of others from the Bay Area and beyond.

Though I go most every year, this year I knew I had to go because the Flaming Lotus Girls brought back the Serpent Mother, which was my favorite art piece on the playa last year. The Serpent Mother is a nearly 170′ long skeleton of metal and fire, its tail wrapping around and protecting a precious egg in the center, and its robotic head moving up and down spewing fire. But the best part is that it’s interactive. Approach its spine and press buttons to shoot flame throwers in the air off various vertebrates. At both Burning Man 2006 and the Fire Arts Festival, it was the communal gathering place. The location where you could be assured to run into your closest friend and an acquaintance you haven’t seen in years.

serpent-mother.jpg

But amazingly, the Serpent Mother was not the most over-the-top attraction at the festival. Imagine this: an opera in an empty lot in West Oakland, with BART trains passing by, the faces of incredulous onlookers pressed up against the windows. And this was not just any opera, it was “The Fire Odyssey,” the Crucible’s interpretation of Odysseus’s story. Zeus and the gods were perched in several story high metal sculptures of the female body, created by Karen Cusolito and Dan DasMann, the artists who brought us Passage in 2005. (These 4 figures are just half of the figures that will be featured in this year’s Crude Awakening at BM.)

trojan-horse.jpg

On the stage, all the familiar characters of the Odyssey appeared, including the Trojan Horse (above), the Cyclops, the Sirens, and Calypso. Every scene featured fire and/or water, moving from graceful to jarring. When Odysseus travels to Hades, lines of fire engulf the stage and surrounding set. Odysseus moves on to do graceful dances with the Sirens and then Calypso. And in one of the final scenes, Odysseus and his son draw swords and shields to fight off Penelope’s suitors, and the suitors fight back with fire. One spins poi, another fights with a fire hoola-hoop, and yet another plunges upon Odysseus from a tight rope on fire.

While the Fire Arts Festival is no substitute for Burning Man, it’s really great to see this annual event becoming part of the larger Bay Area culture. Oakland residents who might never be able to afford Burning Man (or who might just not want to spend a week in the desert) are able to appreciate the awe inspiring fire and arts that burners have been appreciating for years.

And it’s a great reminder that Burning Man is less than a couple months away and I need to start getting ready. Which I really should be doing right now…

Summer’s Here

8 Jul

In the Bay Area, seasons aren’t very distinguishable by the weather. Some leaves change colors and fall off trees. And it does get a bit cooler during the winter and a bit warmer during the summer, but there’s no consistency.

So I’ve learned to track the seasons by produce. And over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that summer’s here. Tomatoes, apricots, corn, peaches, nectarines, avocados, and huge crowds at the farmers’ markets. Today, I had to push through a couple dozen people at the Happy Boy Farms stand at the Temescal Farmers’ Market to grab a few organic heirloom tomatoes. Don’t worry, they’ll be worth it:

Happy Boy Farms Tomatoes

And there are dozens of peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots available from various farmers. I’m still partial to Kashiwase Farms, which I’ve been patronizing for 6 years. Maybe it’s their incredible variety and sweet, organic fruit. Or maybe it’s their tasting display, that I just can’t resist:

Kashiwase Farms Tasting

Thanks to SF Gate for this photo.

My favorite’s right now are the Artic Sweet white nectarines, White Lady peaches, and the Honey Sweet yellow nectarines. Who needs candy when you have fruits that taste as sweet:

Peaches, Nectarines, Pluots, Yum!

And I think I might overdose on corn and avocados soon. They’re just so damn cheap and yummy at this time of year. Besides, my weirdo cat LOVES chewing on corn husks. I think they’re his favorite toy.

Corn Husks Avocados

Well, enough writing. I need to start thinking about what I’m going to cook this week. While I do that, I’ll keep munching on some yummy organic tamari almonds I picked up today from Lagier Ranches.

I love the summer…

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